Tackle Business Projects: The Smallest Thing That Could Work

Businessman tackling projectsBig projects tend to get ignored by startup founders like me. You might have grand ideas for marketing, product development, the website, and improving customer experience, but if it’s going to take 100 steps and three months of hard labor to do it, it’s just not going to happen.

There are fires to put out and low-hanging fruit to pick. Still, it’s a shame that just because the project is “big” that you never get around to it.

In my experience, often big projects can be tackled by doing the least possible thing that could work. This statement could sound wise (a form of Occam’s Razor) or lazy (it’s OK to do a crappy job?), but I’d like to convince you of the former.

Let me show you an example from my company.

“Usability testing” is like backup: Something everyone agrees should be done but almost no one gets around to doing.

Problem is, it sounds like a difficult process. You have to get strangers in the office, set up testing scenarios, run experiments, manage and prioritize lists of 100 things you could improve, and then actually implement those changes. Feh.

So what if instead you did the absolute minimum? This is (with some distortion) the advice from the Grandmaster of Usability Steve Krug (author of the equally great Don’t Make Me Think). (Hmm, “Grandmaster” sounds cult-ish, in a bad way…)

Steve says you should just get three friends to come in and try a few basic tasks with your website (e.g. download a trial or discover how you compare to competition). We used a $20 mic and GoToMeeting ($40/month which we use anyway for teleconferencing) to record the sessions for later analysis.

It turns out that although you could track 100 different things to fix, there’s really just three big things. Or one. And if you improve that one thing, it completely changes the experience for a lot of people.

We tested our website using Steve’s simplistic technique and it was amazing. Twenty problems presented themselves immediately; five were noted by all three testers, and we were able to fix them all in less than a day.

Note that: In less than a day of web work, plus less than a day of time with the testers, we eliminated the top five confusing aspects of our website and identified fifteen more.

We saw a similar effect when we used CrazyEgg. This hosted web software tracks where people click on your website — both on “hot” clickable regions and on stuff like text and graphics — and presents you with a heatmap of where people click.

It was interesting to see what was clicked and which links were ignored. Unexpectedly fascinating were the hotspots where people clicked… but we had neglected to make it a hyperlink! We identified some images and regions that should have been clickable this way, improving the expected behavior of our website with only a few minutes of HTML coding.

The lesson is: Small actions can yield big results. If you fail, you haven’t invested much time. Even if you succeed, you don’t necessarily need to spend more time — perhaps the law of diminishing returns has already set in.

What techniques do you have for getting to goals faster? Leave a comment!

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About the Author: Jason Cohen is the founder of Smart Bear Software and mentor at Austin-based startup launcher Capital Factory. He blogs at A Smart Bear about startups and marketing with a geeky twist.


11 Reactions
  1. This is great advice. I have also used usertesting.com their service is very affordable, fast, and provides great feedback in terms of usability.

  2. @Josh — Thanks for the link! I hope more folks post links to more tools.

  3. @Jason, Your welcome. If your looking for other links I have heard ClickTale is good but have not used it myself.



  4. My advice for getting to goals faster is to focus. Block out time to focus entirely on the goal. No phones, no internet (if possible), no Twitter…you get the point. These periods of focused effort can speed your progress immensely.

  5. As someone pointed out on my Facebook page about this article, this philosophy is very much about making molehills out of mountains. The world seems like such a simpler place when you narrow things down and just tackle one thing or a few things.

  6. Much like Robert says, you just have to DO it! Pick something you’ve “been meaning to get to” and get to it! We sometimes make mountains out of molehills… only in our mind. I find that once I just shut up already and get down to the business at hand, it’s not as big an issue (or a task) that I made it out to be. In my mind. 🙂

    And it feels great to check things off my list!

  7. Great advice! My recommendations would be to do everything you can do today, living in the moment. What you can efficiently do today is worth two tomorrow’s.

  8. Jason Cohen: Have you talked with John Jantsch about these ideas? I think they could qualify as Duct Tape Marketing quality material! 🙂

  9. Starting small is a good thing to do since there is no guarantee that your business will push through.